Meet Chong Tan, EMBA of Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, also a perfectionist. Because of his low-key and introverted style and determined character, he is praised as “YuGong TanChong” by the media (“YuGong the Determined” in Chinese myth).
in 1999, Tan founded Puppyoo. Under his leadership, the brand ranks NO 1 in the online sales of vacuum cleaners in China for 6 consecutive years and our products are sold to 86 countries. In 2014, Puppyoo launched “Puppyoo Central Repairs” in China, which was groundbreaking in after-sales service. Tan won “The Most Influential Figure Award” given by China’s household appliances service and maintenance association.
In 2018, Tan won the “Yangtze Philanthropist of the Year” award. Tan has been practicing corporate social responsibility. In the 10-year public welfare journey, Puppyoo is fulfilling the goal of “make the weak strong, help the pessimist move forward”, through our tireless effort in helping poor students and out-of-school children.
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Table of Contents
Let’s start with a brief introduction first. Introduce yourself to our readers.
Chong Tan: Hi Valiant CEO readers, I am Tan Chong, the founder, and CEO of Puppyoo, a Vacuum Cleaner Brand from China. I founded Puppyoo in 1998 and have been leading the company since.
Our audience is interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to become a CEO or was it something you were led to? Our readers would love to know your story!
Chong Tan: I started out working for an advertising company and then after a few turns of events, I started Puppyoo. I didn’t think I’d be CEO, I was, sort of led to this position.
“Selfmade” is a myth. We all received help, no doubt you love to show appreciation to those who supported you when the going got tough, who has been your most important professional inspiration?
Chong Tan: There was one person that was very important in how became the CEO of Puppyoo. As said before, I worked at an advertising agency. One of my clients recommended me to his CEO to work there in partnership with his vacuum company. I helped that company lead the business in Beijing, and they needed that help. Afterward, I became his major distributor. Eventually, I started my own vacuum business. That person, Mr. NI, changed the course of my life. He supported and helped me along the way, and I really appreciated it.
How did your journey lead you to become a CEO? What difficulties did you face along the way and what did you learn from them?
Chong Tan: I think I answered the first question already.
There were a lot of difficulties in the 22 years journey. You see, China is an emerging market and has seen drastic changes over the course. Typically, there is a market shift every 3 years, or bigger changes every 5 years. The market landscape was very different from that of the US and EU. 90% of businesses died due to failure of adapting. And with each cycle, there were new challenges and competitors. We dealt with a lot of difficulties in these cycles. Naturally, these challenges are not spread evenly, and more often than not, they come in clusters, some happened within one difficult day.
What I have learned from those is that we need be wary of cyclic changes in the market. And the best option we have when confronted with these challenges and difficulties is to face them head-on, seek solutions.
Tell us about your company. What does your business do and what are your responsibilities as a CEO?
Chong Tan: We are a business that designs and manufactures vacuum cleaners. We are the top vacuum cleaner brand in China, we sell cordless stick vacuums, robot vacuums, mattress vacuums, and others. We have 876 patents in the industry and lots of awards, for example, the Red Dot Design Awards.
My responsibilities as a CEO are the development of vacuum technologies, overall business strategies in different markets, and the growth of the brand. Personally, I always try to shoulder more responsibilities for my family, our business, and our customers.
What does CEO stand for? Beyond the dictionary definition, how would you define it?
Chong Tan: For me, the word means “responsibilities”. I need to carry the company forward and take major risks, while employees only need to take care of part of a whole.
When you first became a CEO, how was it different from what you expected? What surprised you?
Chong Tan: It was a long time ago; I only have a vague recollection. If there’s one thing I have to say about becoming a CEO, is that it is not what the media depicted, no glamourous lifestyle, not the fame and glory. So I don’t have the feeling of being a CEO that is associated with this position in the eye of the public.
There are many schools of thought as to what a CEO’s core roles and responsibilities are. Based on your experience, what are the main things a CEO should focus on? Explain and please share examples or stories to illustrate your vision.
Chong Tan: There are a couple of things that a CEO should always be focusing on: where lies the opportunities, what are the customers’ pain points, what are the risks. The goal is to seize the opportunity and avoid potential traps.
We’ve been around for many years in the market, and as I said before, changes in the Chinese market happen faster. We were able to follow the e-commerce boom, we were able to offer great customer services when others brand neglected them, we poured funds into the R&D at a time no one was caring, and when the live streaming was starting to garner steam, we jumped right into it.
The same goes for the risks, we avoided a lot of potential traps: A lot of buzzwords were created by the media and so-called market experts. For example, “Online-Offline Integration”, “Public/Private traffic streams”, “New Retail”. These buzzwords were convoluted business strategies that were later proven to be risks that could lead to wasted resources or potentially disastrous for the company.
Share with us one of the most difficult decisions you had to make for your company that benefited your employees or customers. What made this decision so difficult and what were the positive impacts?
Chong Tan: The most difficult thing is the upgrade of our brand. Many of our employees do not understand this strategic pivot, so there were a lot of internal discussion, training, and workshops to help them. We started to implement the strategies in 2018, there were resistance and inertia, some of our people were still trapped within their old mindset. It is not an easy decision to make, even harder to implement. Externally, we are also facing new competitors along the way. The positive impact is that we are moving in the right direction and will see more growth in the future.
How would you define success? Does it mean generating a certain amount of wealth, gaining a certain level of popularity, or helping a certain number of people?
Chong Tan: For me, success means the end of our business haha. We had milestones, not successes. It’s not wealth per se, because to me wealth is the byproduct of doing the right thing, whether it be helping people or making things that people love. And there’s always room for us to grow, improve, and become better.
Some leadership skills are innate while others can be learned. What leadership skills do you possess innately and what skills have you cultivated over the years as a CEO?
Chong Tan: I agree with your statement. Leadership for me is leading by example and leading with empathy. I am quite an empathetic and communicative person. I regularly talk with my friends and alumni from Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business, there were ideas thrown around like employee empowerment, visionary goals. These were skills that I obtained over the years.
How did your role as a CEO help your business overcome challenges caused by the pandemic? Explain with practical examples.
Chong Tan: The biggest challenge that the pandemic threw at us was the uncertainty. And it is only human nature that we fear the unknown. Aside from taking all the sanitation measures, I also managed to keep the morale high among our staff.
After the first outbreak was detected in China, we developed a mini-app for health check-in for our people just in a few days. We also had a program that encourages our staff to learn new things, read or write.
I also had a program for myself. During those days, I got up at 5 and exercised, and learned new things. I basically walked to the office every day. We all know that positive behaviors create a positive mind.
The pandemic’s impact on our business is mostly on the supply chain side, rather than the side of sales. There’s always a need for cleaning appliances, especially during a global pandemic. And the effective control of the pandemic in the nation also meant less pressure and disruption.
Do you have any advice for aspiring CEOs and future leaders? What advice would you give a CEO that is just starting out on their journey?
Chong Tan: There’s a saying in the startup circle that 90% of startups fail. I can only confirm that from all these years’ experience. But, if you believe entrepreneurial life is for you, you need to be mentally prepared for a long battle. Seek out improvement every day possible and learn from past mistakes. You will also need to accumulate more experience, be sensitive towards change in the market.
Typically, you will probably face major setbacks every 3 or 5 years. Now, of course, that’s also very dependent on where your business is and the market circumstances. Just like Elon Musk said in an interview, “running a business is like chewing glass while staring into the abyss”. Learn and grow, keep a positive outlook, and do not be afraid of setbacks.
Thank you for sharing some of your knowledge with our readers! They would also like to know, what is one skill that you’ve always wanted to acquire but never really could?
Chong Tan: There wasn’t any particular skill I really wanted. No, not really.
Before we finish things off, we have one final question for you. If you wrote a book about your life today, what would the title be?
Chong Tan: As an Entrepreneur, I believe the best book would be the company/business/brand itself. Our business is the book I want to write, and the title is the Puppyoo name. If the Name is spread far and wide, it means I have been writing correctly. We’re mere players on the world stage, to judge is the job of the audience. In our case, the audience is our customers.
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Chong Tan for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Chong Tan or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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